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Highlights of ISO 14001 – Environmental management systems

The field of environmental management only dates to the last century. For their part, most advanced economies adopted serious environmental regulations in the last two generations. The development of environmental management system (EMS) best-practice standards is more recent still, with the international EMS standard, ISO 14001, coming out in the late 1990s.

What’s ISO 14001 all about?

Well, the most recent version of ISO 14001, published in 2015, requires that a community or organisation put in place a series of practices and procedures that would result in an environmental management system.

It’s neither a technical standard nor does it prescribe specific standards of performance.

What’s it all about, then? Three key ISO 14001 requirements stand out. They follow below:

  1. A policy statement including commitments to prevent pollution, continually improve the EMS, leading to improvements in overall environmental performance, and (improved) compliance with all applicable statutory and regulatory requirements
  2. Identification of all aspects of the community’s or organisation’s activities, products, and services that could have a significant impact on the environment, including those that are not regulated
  3. Setting performance objectives and targets for the management system that link back to the three commitments established in the community’s or organisation's policy (i.e., prevention of pollution, continual improvement, and compliance)

Download Guide to Understanding ISO 14001

Historical changes to ISO 14001

The standard has also changed in form. As written today, the standard offers a major revision of the 2004 version. That 2004 revision aligned ISO 14001 to the ISO 9001 quality management standard.

The current 2015 standard maintains this focus on alignment with other ISO standards. It does, however, offer the following revisions:

  • Structure. Helps organisations combine and integrate different management systems by including the PDCA approach (Plan-Do-Check-Act).
  • Context of the organisation. Included as a new clause, with the aim of compelling organisations to have a better, more strategic understanding of all the factors affecting the way they manage environmental responsibilities. Organisations must now determine external and internal issues relevant to their purpose and that affect their ability to achieve the intended outcome of the environmental management system.
  • Leadership. Recognises that leadership commitment is critical to the implementation of an effective EMS, confirming that the implementation of the EMS is the exclusive responsibility of top management.
  • Planning. Aligns ISO 14001 with revised requirements in ISO 9001, by requiring the organisation to determine the risks associated with threats and opportunities, then address those risks. This risk approach also covers the specific requirement for preventive action.
  • Support. Renders the standard more prescriptive in relation to resource, competence awareness, and required communications. The latter should be appropriate, transparent, and reliable.
  • Operations. Prioritises the consideration of the value chain that impacts the environmental management system and the control of changes and outsourced processes. The operations section is also more prescriptive in relation to emergency preparedness and response.
  • Performance evaluation. Adds monitoring, measurement, analysis, evaluation of environmental performance, evaluation of compliance, internal audits, and management review. The changes consolidate existing requirements into a single clause.
  • Improvement. Contains non-conformity and corrective action clauses. It is also more prescriptive in terms of consideration of nonconformities and the resulting actions.

Those changes only begin to scratch the surface, though. For further highlights, download our guide to ISO 14001.

Download Guide to Understanding ISO 14001